Airstream REI Basecamp 16X :: Field Tested

Since our overland vehicle is also a daily driver, packing and preparing for spontaneous trips has been cumbersome. My family is forced to choose between comfort, preparedness, and the simple ease of minimalism. In the last decade, a new class of capable overland camp trailers has mitigated this trade-off. We now store all of our overland and backcountry gear in our trailer, meaning last-minute, unplanned departures are as simple as hitching the trailer and heading out. Our trailer keeps the whole family comfortable and gives us some of the benefits of a dedicated overland vehicle but with less depreciation and maintenance. And when we leave camp to explore, we appreciate being able to detach from the trailer for excursions even farther into the wilderness.

With lightweight materials, high clearance, and independent suspension, overland trailers can traverse challenging terrain yet still have all the amenities to serve as a luxurious home base. But build quality and designs vary widely—not all trailers marketed as “off-road” can survive off-road. Some buyers eventually discover their new purchase was designed for something other than real-world overland conditions, despite the impressive stubby tires and glossy manufacturer photos.

For that reason, when Airstream generously offered us a week with the REI Basecamp 16X, their most capable off-road trailer, we were eager to put it through its paces. While the brand is known more for its timeless aluminum body design and luxury appointments than ground clearance and departure angles, the company has a rich overlanding history. The founder, Wally Byam, encouraged taking Airstream trailers on remote, challenging routes [See “Living Legend Dale Schwamborn” (Wally’s nephew), Overland Journal Fall 2019]. Wally led several caravans of Airstreams into remote backcountry, the most impressive of which might have been a seven-month long-axis transverse of Africa 30 years after Major Chaplin Court Treatt established the route from Cape Town to Cairo. Although our plans were not as ambitious, we were excited by the prospect of taking one of their trailers into the Cascade Range to learn if Airstream still fulfills Wally’s original vision.

To tow the Airstream, we opted for a 2022 Land Rover Defender. While the Basecamp’s 3,500-pound GVWR would easily be towed by a half-ton pickup, it would be right at the limit of most high-clearance SUVs. The electronic air suspension of the Defender gives the vehicle stable highway performance and capable towing while limiting sacrifices to the vehicle’s off-road geometry. There are many valid critiques of the new Defender 110 versus its classic heir; towing capacity and ground clearance aren’t among them.

A Comfortable Camper for the Occasional Overlander

Introduced in 2022, the Airstream REI Basecamp 16X has a well-appointed interior that includes an indoor/outdoor shower, on-demand UV-filtered water, and a flushing toilet. The 21-gallon freshwater tank and 24-gallon wastewater tank enabled us to travel off-grid comfortably for about a week with judicious water usage. The dinette converts to a bed that, though 4 inches shy of a king, still left us feeling like royalty.

The Airstream comes well supplied with two 20-pound propane tanks, more than enough for the tankless instant hot water, a 12,000 BTU ducted furnace, and a two-burner stove. During our trip, daytime highs approached 80 degrees, and nighttime lows approached the low 40s. Our nights were warm and comfortable inside, and the insulated walls kept the vehicle cool while we prepared mid-day lunches.

Twelve-volt power is widely available inside, with 10 USB-A/USB-C outlets and one 12-volt accessory outlet. While 110V outlets are also available, with no inverter included, they require a generator or shore power. Likewise, a rooftop air-conditioner quickly cools the vehicle when 30 amp 110V is available.

The 3.1 cubic-foot Nova Kool 12-volt fridge/freezer combo does not run on propane (as was the case with older Airstreams), reducing weight and complexity but quickly draining the 200 amp-hour lithium onboard batteries that came with our unit. Those planning to do more than travel from RV hookup to RV hookup can avoid discharging the batteries by installing an appropriately sized solar array (which unfortunately doesn’t come standard) and a low-voltage battery alarm.

The camper’s included “X” package increases ground clearance to approximately 10.48 inches, a respectable figure. Despite that, an overlander will notice its paltry 15-degree departure angle, stiff torsion-axle suspension, and vulnerable underside. A low-hanging LPG port near the front of the vehicle tempted passing rocks, especially when we pitched the hitch down at the start of hill climbs. All this, combined with a 7- x 9-foot cross-section, limited our confidence to established forest roads, yet we still managed to return the vehicle with a few pinstripes.

airstream interiorairstream kitchen

Overlanding Versus Action Sports

Airstream appears to have designed the Basecamp with action/adventure sports enthusiasts in mind: a rear access hatch and over 11 linear feet of floor space made it easy to store our 12-foot paddleboard. Two interior tie-down L-track systems gave us peace of mind that it wouldn’t be dislodged as we traveled rutted forest roads to alpine lakes. This flexibility comes at the cost of a full-time bed; every morning and evening, we had to manipulate 10 different pieces of the dinette (not including the cushions) to set up and tear down the bed. Limited dedicated interior storage meant we had to move our clothing and gear outside during this conversion, making it a cumbersome process. The newly introduced 2023 REI Basecamp 20X solves this problem with both a second bed/dinette space and a larger floor plan. However, many overlanders wouldn’t consider the trade-off of dedicated space for a bed worth the higher GVWR and worse off-road geometry.

Another fun perk is the REI Co-op product kit that comes standard with every REI Basecamp, including Flexlite Camp Chairs, a Campwell picnic table, camp kitchen sundries, and more. I found the 25-piece kit to be well-curated with quality products, and it would be a useful start for a buyer who does not already have an overlanding kit built out.

Final Thoughts

Overall, Airstream’s first foray into the overland market has produced a timeless and comfortable trailer with excellent on-road manners that can introduce weekend road warriors to overlanding and backcountry camping, allowing them to conquer the occasional dirt track and making the overlanding lifestyle accessible to a broader audience.

While we left the weekend thinking that a full-time overlander might be looking for a more capable trailer, we wouldn’t discourage those passionate about outdoor sports from considering the REI Basecamp. We expect a buyer might appreciate the vehicle’s ability to bring their gear—whether it be a mountain bike, kayak, or kiteboarding setup—to more remote terrain. The included REI product kit would make the purchase very tempting for the adventure sports enthusiast who is beginning to consider longer overnight trips outdoors.

$53,900+ |

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Overland Journal’s Gear 2024 Issue.

Read more: 36 Hours of Adventure :: It’s the Airstream Life for Us

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Samuel cut his teeth in photography early in his career, building mobile photography technology and running Facebook's photo product. He began his overlanding career shortly after, traveling through the American West in a 1995 NAS Defender 90 and living in an Airstream trailer. This lifestyle of simplicity, creativity, and exploration quickly became a source of community and meaning. More recently, Samuel enjoys traveling with his wife and two young children across Western North America. His favorite recent memory was a three-month overland through the Mojave Desert and 15 national parks with his six-month-old son. In addition to overlanding, Samuel also enjoys exploring the waters of the Puget Sound.